Learn About Being an Aeronautical Engineer

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

What does an aeronautical engineer do?

An aeronautical engineer designs aircraft and missiles. They study aerodynamics and use their expertise to guide the manufacturing, construction and maintenance of aircraft. The aircraft they design can be for commercial, government and military use. Different from aerospace engineers who design spacecraft, aeronautical engineers work with systems that operate within the Earth’s atmosphere. As an aeronautical engineer, you would be responsible for:

  • Designing reliable and efficient aircraft and aeronautical machines for clients

  • Addressing issues that arise during the manufacturing process of the aircraft

  • Ensuring that your aircraft meets the environmental and safety requirements

  • Inspecting existing aircraft and making suggestions for improvements

Average salary

The rate of pay for this career varies by employee experience since it requires technical knowledge and practical experience. The size, type and location of the company in which they work can also affect an aeronautical engineer’s wages. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $103,406 per year

  • Some salaries range from $21,000 to $171,000 per year.

Aeronautical engineer requirements

Aeronautical engineering is a popular and much sought-after career. To ensure the safety of employees and clients, most states require engineers to meet certain standards before they practice. Requirements and needed skills include:

Education

Entry-level aeronautical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering or aerospace engineering from an accredited institution. There are enough similarities between the degrees that many colleges combine into a double major. If you pursued this degree, you would enroll in courses in mathematics, sciences, physics and chemistry. You would also participate in practical labs where you observe and test aerodynamical theories. The lengths of the programs range from four to five years depending on the school, with some programs offering longer plans that include a master’s degree.

Some aeronautical engineers choose to complete full master’s programs after earning their bachelor’s degrees. In a master’s program, aeronautical engineers can gain more knowledge and specialize in a certain area.

Training

After graduation, you need to complete four years of practical training before taking the Professional Engineer exam. This training can take place through internships, on a job or while completing further education. Observing other professionals and spending several years in the workplace provides you with valuable experience outside the classroom. The goal for these years of training is to thoroughly prepare you for your career in the aeronautical engineering field.  

Certifications

All practicing engineers need to obtain the following licenses to practice:

Fundamentals of Engineering

In the final year of graduation or soon after, engineering students must take and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. The exam consists of 110 questions and is available for seven disciplines, including chemical, civil, environmental and mechanical engineering. You must earn this certification before you can pursue becoming a Professional Engineer (PE). 

Professional Engineer

Most employers require aeronautical engineers to have their PE or be PE eligible. You can earn this license by taking an exam after working for four years in the aeronautical engineering field. The PE exam tests engineers’ competency in their chosen field after they have acquired several years of practical experience. Becoming certified is a requirement for aeronautical engineers to practice publicly.  

Skills

Many of the skills recommended for an aeronautical engineer are common to all types of engineering. Others can be specific to the field. These skills include:

Design skills

Aeronautical engineers conceptualize and design aircraft which can later be manufactured and mass-produced. This requires proficiency in logical and analytical expertise. It also may require the use of graphic design technology and information systems. 

Problem-solving skills

As an aeronautical engineer, you should be skilled in mathematics and analytics. You will be responsible for assessing, interpreting and evaluating data that you could then use to improve your designs. 

Technical skills

To design functional aircraft, aeronautical engineers should be familiar with the manufacturing and assembly of different types of aircraft. You also may need to use specified technology for your calculations and designs. 

Communication skills

These skills will be used when you work with production teams, managers and clients. You need to be able to communicate budgets, schedules and technical specifications. You may need to present this information in person or written form. 

Creativity

Design work in any field requires a certain level of creativity. One of the goals of an aeronautical engineer is to continually make improvements to the aircraft they design and how they function. The innovation necessary to make these improvements is a valuable asset to anyone seeking work in an engineering field. 

Aeronautical engineer work environment

Aeronautical engineers work in close contact with aircraft contractors and manufacturers. They work in many industries, including commercial flight, the military and the federal government. If you work on government contracts, you may need a certain level of security clearance. Aeronautical engineers’ workplaces vary and can include industrial plants, office spaces and laboratories. You could coordinate and communicate within and outside your departments to facilitate and contribute to the creation of your designs. A workday for an aeronautical engineer may include:

  • Using computer-assisted design technologies to design aircraft for clients

  • Coordinating each stage of the manufacturing of their designs

  • Planning and executing practical tests that may lead to the improvement of their designs

  • Conducting research that will contribute to future development

  • Aeronautical engineers typically work full time during normal business hours, with some overtime necessary when faced with deadlines. While working in a plant or laboratory, they may need to wear protective gear, such as boots, goggles and gloves.

How to become an aeronautical engineer

Finding a position in the aeronautical industry involves several years of education and training. The necessary steps include:

1. Complete the necessary education. 

You must acquire a four-year degree in aeronautical or aerospace engineering from an accredited institution. These degrees involve courses in mathematics, sciences and physics. You will also participate in practical labs that test aerodynamic theories and provide the technical expertise necessary to understand the mechanical side of engineering. If you want to specialize in a certain type of engineering, consider earning your master’s degree.

2. Pass the FE.

After graduation, you’ll need to take and pass the Fundamental Engineering exam to become an engineer. The FE allows you to work as an engineer until you earn enough experience to take the PE.

3. Gain experience.

To qualify for a PE, you’ll need experience in an engineering setting. Find an employer who is willing to train you and offer instruction until you can become fully licensed.

4. Earn your PE.

After working in the field for at least four years, you may then take the Professional Engineering exam to become a licensed engineer.

Aeronautical engineer job description example

Everett Industries is seeking an aeronautical engineer to lead a team in the designing and manufacturing of aircraft. The ideal candidate can understand and widely apply technical principles, theories and concepts in the field of aircraft design. The candidate will be responsible for the modeling of aircraft structure and assembly, creating detailed drawings using contemporary design tools and coordinating with the production teams. A bachelor’s degree in engineering and three to six years of practical aeronautical engineering experience is preferred.

Related careers

  • Mechanical engineer

  • Manufacturing engineer

  • Electrical engineer

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